July 3, 2014

The Hunt

Thomas Vinterberg, 2013
A beloved kindergarten teacher named Lucas (Mads Mikkelsen) is surprised to suddenly find himself accused of sexually assaulting one of his young students. It doesn't take long for the entire town that has for so long embraced him to turn on him completely.

Vinterbergs's unsettling drama opens up with Lucas on his way to the school where he works. You are immediately presented with a man completely revered by the children and his fellow staff that he works with. The children hide on him, try to scare him as he approaches the school grounds every morning. He even helps them, if needed, with bathroom duties. And soon, when that unfortunate accusatory seed is planted, all of the innocent companionship that he has had with his students is looked at differently.

The world of film has the ability to explore all aspects of humanity. Quite often these are parts of humanity that aren't necessarily comfortable to explore. Murder, rape, suicide, unexpected tragedy, illness, etc. They are all unpleasant and unfortunate parts of our existence. The Hunt examines the notion of someone being accused of a crime they did not commit. The whole idea of being guilty by the court of public opinion long before you have the opportunity to stand trial and defend yourself. We all know the court of public opinion delivers a verdict much more quickly, and much more unfairly. A modern day witch hunt, a hasty jumping to conclusions. Despite the troublesome subject matter, it's a film that grips you and doesn't let go, largely because of the great performances. There's really not one bad actor involved. Strangely, you realize twenty minutes in that there is a uneasy tension that has already been established that doesn't really let up for the remainder of the film. You see that Lucas is a good man. When the fabricated story is quickly conjured up, your heart already aches for what's yet to come. Then comes the inevitable snowball effect. That deplorable mob mentality. Humankind turning vicious. Then comes the complete tear-down of a man that was beloved by the community. You soon realize that there's no turning back. There's no getting back to normal. Those days of drunk singing around the table are over. Mikkelsen provides a stellar performance as Lucas. An introvert that has an affection for people. Still licking his wounds from his divorce, his whole life is the kindergarten that he teaches and the hope that he can spend more time with his own son. When you see it being ripped away from him, it's agonizing.

One frustrating moment in the film is when Lucas is confronted by Grethe at the school. She lets him know that a student has come forward and provided details of some sexual abuse. You would think that Lucas' immediate reaction would be to just outright deny it, quite adamantly and determinedly. Instead, his reaction is far more vague leaving Grethe to further speculate. Perhaps it's because he is so surprised to hear about the accusation. Perhaps it's pure shell-shock to him. The Hunt is a challenging film, and only because of the subject matter. A film that could have easily been a contender for the Top Five Great Films I Don't Want to See Again, but it's so worth that first viewing.

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